While co-op is nothing new to any Resident Evil fan who took part in Chris and Sheva's Great African Safari of 2009, the recently announced Operation Raccoon City represents what might just be the boldest leap the series has made into the world of online teamwork. It's a third-person shooter with a story campaign that will see teams of four players make their way through the titular Raccoon City zombie outbreak that provided the setting for Resident Evil 2 way back when. In an odd reversal from that particular game, you'll actually be assuming the role of Umbrella Corporation's special security troops--each relying on one another's class-specific abilities--in a hunt for Leon Kennedy.
Operation Raccoon City is being developed by Slant Six, a studio whose history thus far consists entirely of SOCOM games. That background is evident the moment you pick up a controller because Operation Raccoon City feels much more like a traditional third-person shooter than any recent Resident Evil game. There's a cover system, you can actually fire while running, and the whole thing moves at a much faster clip than what you've come to expect from anything bearing the Resident Evil name. The new and the old have a way of intersecting in some interesting ways, like when you peer down your gun's iron sights only to pull back and notice a lot more zombies surrounding you than before.
However, don't mistake this for some bog-standard military shooter. There have been some pretty huge changes made to the standard Resident Evil formula, but it's still a Resident Evil game. In fact, in a lot of ways, it's a game that harks back to earlier titles in the history of the series--back before this newfangled daylight business became all the rage. What we saw of the co-op campaign showed zombies doing their shambling thing in dimly lit city streets and shadowy alleyways, with no shortage of dark corners housing who-knows-what. It is clear that Capcom and Slant Six want to return to the horror roots of the series and use that as a contrast to the more fast-paced shooter action.
Said shooter action can be played in a variety of styles, depending on which character you choose. In the co-op campaign, you'll be joining up with Umbrella Corporation's black ops/tier one/really-good-at-shooting-guns security squad. There are four characters to choose from, each with what Capcom says will be distinct skills and personality. Their names, in order of ascending awesomeness, are: Vector, Spectre, Bertha, and Beltway. Vector's the stealth expert; Spectre is the surveillance guy who can use infrared goggles to sniff out special enemies; Bertha is the medic; and Beltway is the heavy who excels in demolitions work. Capcom insists that the campaign is designed in such a way that everyone will need to rely on one another, though we didn't get to see much of those class-specific skills in action during the brief campaign demo.
We did see a lot of shooting, though. It seems the streets of Raccoon City have seen a noticeable uptick in zombie infestation since the events of Resident Evil 2. There are swarms of normal zombies that aren't an especially huge threat until you begin to take damage. That's when they can smell danger and begin to charge after you in full force. Aside from them, there are some more uncommon special zombies that roam around, including some pulled directly from early Resident Evil, such as the hunter. And, naturally, when you do find yourself feeling a little worse for the wear after all this zombie fighting, you'll still find random green herbs scattered around the darkened alleys. The city may be overrun by zombies and perpetual darkness, but it's still a fine place to grow medicinal herbs.
In addition to the story-based co-op campaign in which you play as the bad guys in a hunt for Leon Kennedy, you'll be able to slaughter dozens of shambling zombies in a competitive mode. In this scenario, it's once again the four class-based Umbrella Corp. employees against four similarly talented US military spec ops soldiers. As in most zombie outbreaks, the military has been sent into quarantine the area, but it has found quite a bit of opposition from Umbrella Corporation, so now it has no choice but to team deathmatch one another in a battle of supremacy. What's interesting about the competitive mode is that there are still plenty of zombies roaming around that couldn't care less whether you're on one team or the other. It's a points-based contest in which you get one point for a zombie kill, 10 points for killing an enemy teammate, and so on, based on good deeds you do for the team and special zombie types killed.
So all of this is more or less what you can expect from Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. The elephant in the middle of the room is certainly this game's resemblance to Left 4 Dead--another zombie apocalypse series with four-player co-op. Anyone who has played the Left 4 Dead series knows what a high bar was set for any game trying to imitate it. But whereas Left 4 Dead built a lot of its success on varied makeshift weaponry and a profoundly awesome sense of humor, Capcom seems to be banking on the class system and the more serious atmosphere that distinguishes this game from the competition. We'll see how it all turns out when we get closer to the game's release later this year.